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When Homeless Veterans Needed A Home, This OC Organization Stepped In

Written By: Erica Johnson Potter’s Lane
Photographed By: Chad Mellon

If you were to drive past Potter’s Lane, you might think that it’s a trendy spot to pick up a coffee or browse for cute accessories. It’s colorful, clean and has a garden in the middle. It’s bright, contemporary and stylish but Potter’s Lane is one of the most important structures in the country, a groundbreaking humanitarian effort that is the first of it’s kind. This custom development, made entirely of shipping containers, provides housing to homeless veterans. Leave it to Orange County to be the innovators on one of the most pressing issues in the US.

Nonprofit American Family Housing developed Potter’s Lane from single-use, steel shipping containers. There are 16 custom units that were meticulously converted into 480-square-foot studio apartments by GrowthPoint Structures. These homes come furnished and have TVs, a fully equipped kitchen and dining area, linens—everything one needs in the home. There is a common area, a patio with a barbecue and a vegetable garden. In addition, the veterans also receive life-changing services such as case management, counseling, job services and computer training and rent are subsidized largely.

Homelessness in Orange County is on the rise, with 340 more homeless counted in 2017 than only two years before. For Steve Harding, a former Captain in the OC Sheriff’s Dept who is now Potter’s Lane’s Director of External Relations, the project was not only one of compassion, it is common sense. “Even if your heart doesn’t tell you to help these people, your pocketbook should. It’s very expensive to have folks out on the street. It costs $45,000 per year to put a person in housing as opposed to $85,000 per year in emergency services for those living on the street.” The fact is that Orange County spends $300 million per year for services to the homeless.

Many of our unsheltered homeless are veterans and they are more likely to be homeless in Orange County. Potter’s Lane provides a permanent home for those who have served as well as providing a sense of community, which provides a much needed feeling of safety. Pets are also welcome—many homeless would not even consider going anywhere without their beloved companion. As Harding points out, “There are people that sleep in their clothes because they think that at any moment, they will be told to move on. This is their home for life if they want to stay. All we ask is that you respect the other residents and maintain the environment that is provided.”

Like any other communal living situation, there are guidelines that need to be followed but they are drawn with generous strokes. Adds Harding, “Most of these veterans are very service focused, work well with structure and love being part of a team. We have meetings where anyone can bring up any issues they may have. We also have dinners and barbecues and sometimes live music.”

Many businesses and individuals have been delighted to come forward to contribute to the project. Wells Fargo, Home Depot, US Bank, Pacific Premier Bank and others have donated funds, goods and volunteers to the cause. Students from local high schools and UC Irvine and even Eagle Scout groups have come out and volunteered time and muscle to bring it all together.

The future will bring more communities like Potter’s Lane and planning is underway to develop similar projects in Los Angeles and Santa Ana. There are an unlimited amount of containers and since the project can be completed so quickly—Potter’s Lane took only six months—it will be considered the ultimate solution for many US cities looking to mitigate the issue of homelessness.

Harding put it simply; “Our mission is to house the homeless. We want to see this duplicated whether we do it or not. We are not trying to build an empire—we want to try to find solutions.”

We Have A Winner: Potter’s Lane has won numerous awards including five Awards of Merit for the PCBC’s Golden Nugget Awards showcasing projects across the nation as well as the 2017 award for Best Affordable Housing Project.

The Strong, Silent Type: Structurally, the containers used for Potter’s Lane are 106 times the strength required in residential homes, are top rated for energy-efficiency and are virtually soundproof.

Safe and Sound: A U.C. Irvine study found that providing permanent supportive housing to the chronically homeless—those with a significant history of homelessness and an identified disability—could save the taxpayers of Orange County close to $42 million annually.

Potter’s Lane
15161 Jackson St
Midway City, CA  92655
Have You Checked Out Potter’s Lane Homes for the Homeless in Orange County?